Nelson getting a grip on new split-change

March 18th, 2017

PHOENIX -- He grips the baseball like a circle changeup, only with his index finger and middle finger farther apart than usual. This is Jimmy Nelson's split-change, a new pitch he has refined this spring and expects to incorporate more this season.

"I feel like I have an equal amount of confidence in all of my pitches now," Nelson said. "Whereas before, it would be like, 'OK, my most confidence is in my fastball, then my breaking stuff, and then my changeup was last.' I would throw it in situations not to get hurt.

"Now, I like this pitch, and the action it has on it. It gets better the more I throw it."

Nelson recorded two of his six strikeouts with that pitch in three-plus innings of an 8-5 Brewers loss to the Royals on Friday, an outing marred as much by tough luck as by mistakes.

Of the Royals' four doubles in their three-run first inning, one was a bloop, another caromed off first base and a third was lost in the sun that eluded left fielder . Nelson paid a price for a handful of thigh-high fastballs, but was particularly pleased with the shape and effectiveness of his offspeed stuff, including that improving changeup.

He credited catcher for calling it often. Bandy liked the look.

"It was a little inconsistent in the beginning of spring, but today it had a better fastball line, and definitely more depth," Bandy said. "That was exciting to see from him."

Nelson picked up the pitch last year and liked the downward movement, but not the location. With work, especially in bullpen sessions during August and September, he narrowed his misses.

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Now he can throw it consistently for a strike, and when he does miss, he almost always misses below the strike zone, Nelson said.

"That's big," he said. "That's another reason I have confidence in it. The more you throw a new pitch, and the more you see talented big league hitters take bad swings -- the swings usually tell you what a pitch is like, not the radar gun or what you think as a pitcher.

"The swings tell you. And last year when I threw it to guys like [Joey] Votto and [Anthony] Rizzo, and I struck them out on it, I was like, 'OK, those are two really good hitters. This is a good pitch and I'm going to stick with it and keep working on it.'"

Only 1.1 percent of Nelson's pitches registered as changeups last season, per FanGraphs data, as the right-hander went 8-16 with a 4.62 ERA in 32 starts. That percentage was slightly down from previous seasons.

Now, it is poised to go up.

"He and [pitching coach Derek Johnson] have really stuck with it," manager Craig Counsell said. "You started to see some swings and misses today. It was regularly down. Without a doubt, there's progress being made."